HC Deb 26 November 1973 vol 865 cc6-9
5. Mr. Kaufman

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will introduce legislation to repeal the Sound Broadcasting Act

11. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if, in order to restrict the growth of newspaper-owning groups, he will seek powers to prohibit any such group or its subsidiaries from holding shares in commercial radio stations.

Sir J. Eden

I have no proposals to amend or repeal the legislation governing the Independent Broadcasting Authority's local radio service.

Mr. Kaufman

As the London Broadcasting Company, in addition to being in clear breach of the prospectus on which it gained its franchise, is grossly overworking and underpaying its staff, has hardly any listeners, gets hardly any commercials and seems to be on the verge of financial disintegration, would it not be kinder to put it out of its misery?

Sir J. Eden

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's strictures are justified. The London Broadcasting station has been on the air for less than two months. I recall that the Labour Government allowed the new BBC local radio stations to operate for nearly two years before reviewing the experimental service.

Mr. Gorst

My right hon. Friend will no doubt agree that it is seldom that I agree with the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), but on this occasion he is absolutely right in describing the London Broadcasting service as inadequate and expensive, especially in its news service. Would it not be a good idea to have a change in this aspect of the law?

Sir J. Eden

My hon. Friend is perfectly entitled to his views on the subject. I have a copy of the programme intentions and plans submitted by the London Broadcasting Company, from which it is clear that the company expected to broadcast a certain number of musical and other programmes. The company is not straying beyond the terms upon which it accepted the franchise.

Mr. Allaun

Has the Minister taken into account the growth of monopoly in the Press which presents a serious threat to democracy? Is not the danger increased by giving dominant newspaper groups this additional power?

Sir J. Eden

Safeguards are built into the Act which the IBA is careful to operate to ensure that no local newspaper monopoly controls a radio station in the same area.

Mr. McCrindle

Will my right hon. Friend note that there are many who, in welcoming the arrival of the London Broadcasting Company and Capital Radio, feel that their existence during the last six weeks has stimulated the BBC and that it is all to the good that listeners have a choice of news and music broadcasts in the London area?

Sir J. Eden

I am sure that there is a great deal in what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. John Grant

Does not the Minister agree that, had the advisory committee been set up at the proper time as the Act required some of the criticisms of my hon. Friends might have been alleviated? Does he not consider that it is time for a wide-ranging inquiry into the overlapping ownership of newspapers and broadcasting stations, bearing in mind the recent Monopolies Commission's report on the concentration of Press ownership and various other recommendations, including the recommendation on broadcasting made by the Select Committee?

Sir J. Eden

There is a later Question on the subject of the first part of that supplementary question. The answer to the second part is "No".

Mr. Tom King

Will my right hon. Friend ignore the predictable and totally reactionary prejudices of the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) and recognise that the new radio stations are making a distinctive contribution in the choice of radio programmes and the frequency of news broadcasts which many of us appreciate?

Sir J. Eden

As the new stations gain greater experience, more and more people will be happy to have the choice of listening to them.

9. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will make a further statement on the progress that has been made in setting up a London advisory committee for commercial radio.

Sir J. Eden

Eight members of the advisory committee have now been appointed, but the IBA is still awaiting further nominations from local authorities.

Mr. Jenkins

Is not the situation entirely unsatisfactory, and does not the Minister's answer emphasise the fact that this advisory committee should be appointed by him and not by the IBA? Is it not ludicrous that the whole pattern of commercial broadcasting should have been established on the wrong lines before the IBA has set up its own advisory committee? Will the right hon. Gentleman look at this matter again? Surely he should be responsible for these appointments and these authorities should be answerable to him and to the House.

Sir J. Eden

I do not agree with the last point made by the hon Gentleman. There have been special difficulties in regard to the first matter, and I know that the authority has already noted comments made in this House in previous questions on this subject.

Mr. Lipton

Is the Minister aware that an advisory committee is desperately needed in view of the frightful and painful programmes being put out by commercial radio in London? Sometimes by accident one picks up the station and it is a very painful experience.

Sir J. Eden

The authority is pressing ahead as fast as possible with the appointment of the advisory committee, but I am certain the hon. Gentleman would agree that it should be a properly balanced body rather than one which does not adequately represent all the interests which it should seek to do.